Oct. 24, 2002
Vol. 22 No. 3

current issue
archive / search

    International sex survey shows women do not experience age-related sexual dysfunction

    By William Harms
    News Office

    Edward Laumann

    Earlier this month, Edward Laumann, the George Herbert Meade Distinguished Service Professor in Sociology, presented his latest research results on the differences between men and women in age-related sexual dysfunction at a conference of the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health.

    Laumann’s paper, “The Impact of Biological Aging Effects on the Reporting of Sexual Dysfunctions in Women Aged 40-80: Results of An International Survey,” reveals that women are much less likely to experience age-related sexual dysfunction than men, whose erectile dysfunction increases with age. “Among mature women, physical factors associated with aging do not appear to consistently influence the likelihood of sexual dysfunction. Other influences, specifically, social and psychological factors, appear to have a much greater impact,” said Laumann.

    As one of the nation’s leading authorities on the sociology of sexuality, Laumann advised a panel of scholars who conducted the “Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors,” a survey funded by Pfizer, Inc. The survey is based on in-person and telephone interviews with 27,500 men and women aged 40 to 80 years old in 30 countries worldwide, which were conducted during 2001.

    Although the results were largely uniform worldwide, the study found some small variations in sexual dysfunction among older ages in some of the world’s regions. “Inability to have orgasm seems especially to be a northern European age-influenced effect,” Laumann said.

    Researchers surveyed equal numbers of men and women, asking about a range of health conditions such as hysterectomies, depression and other illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. The researchers assessed whether aging increased the risk of sexual dysfunction, even when these health conditions were taken into account.

    In addition to examining sexual dysfunction among men and women, the research team looked at other topics related to aging and sexuality. The cross-country differences of sexual dysfunction were reported for people experiencing the problem for two months or more. The research team found that among men, problems with erectile dysfunction increase with age. Among women, the researchers looked at these factors: lack of interest in sex, inability to experience orgasm, pain during intercourse, lack of sexual pleasure and lubrication difficulties.

    The pooled global survey found that 31 percent of women lacked interest in sex, 22 percent were unable to have an orgasm, 21 percent experienced a lack of pleasure during intercourse, 20 percent had trouble lubricating and 14 percent experienced pain during sex.

    The researchers studied three age groups in detail: those aged 40 to 49, those aged 50 to 64 and those aged 65 to 80. Laumann’s paper compared the older two groups against a baseline, which was the prevalence of dysfunction among those aged 40 to 49. Researchers evaluated the effect of aging on the risk of sexual dysfunction, taking into account the effects of a wide range of adverse health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and depression.

    “For the pooled data, only ‘trouble lubricating’ has highly significant age effects,” Laumann said. The results for women in the United States and Canada were similar to the pooled results, he said.

    Laumann directed the National Health and Social Life Survey, one of the largest surveys of sexual attitudes and behaviors in the United States since the publication of the Kinsey Reports in the 1950s. He currently is the principal investigator of a study examining the relationships between sexual behaviors and social factors in Chicago, as well as a co-principal investigator of the National Survey of Chinese Sexual Practices.